NEW YORK -- The last time the winter meetings were held in Dallas, the New York Mets signed Jose Valentin, and neared completion of a two-year deal with Julio Franco, who happened to be 47 years old at the time.
One thing is for certain: Current general manager Sandy Alderson will be more cautious in giving out multiyear contracts than predecessor Omar Minaya.
The Mets' contingent is due to arrive Sunday at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas, and there is plenty of work remaining beyond dialogue with Jose Reyes' agents -- with what appears to be a shoestring budget.
At the very least, Alderson promises to return from the winter meetings with a player in Thursday morning's Rule 5 draft. That is the vehicle the Mets used a year ago to acquire reliever Pedro Beato and second baseman Brad Emaus.
So far this offseason, the Mets have not made much noise -- signing outfielder Adam Loewen and utility player Vinny Rottino to minor league deals and re-signing Valentino Pascucci. And some agents are particularly perplexed.
"They appear to be indecisive. Hopefully they're not," one agent said. "They're noncommittal on everything. The conversation will be something like, 'Can you tell us a little about who your free agents are?' We list them. And then, 'Just so you know, we're interested in all of them.'"
More accurately, it may just be that the Mets have to wait out the market, with payroll constraints forcing the front office to be frugal and wait to see who remains at a reasonable price.
Alderson has not articulated a precise payroll, but he certainly has painted a scenario where it is less than $100 million on Opening Day -- potentially as much as a $50 million drop from the 2011 season. And with Johan Santana, Jason Bay, David Wright, R.A. Dickey and arbitration-eligible Mike Pelfrey and Angel Pagan tying up about $70 million alone, there just is not much maneuverability to bring in talent.
One area Alderson is committed to improving is the bullpen, where the organization has concluded no internal options exist to close after being dissatisfied with Bobby Parnell's audition in September.
In fact, team insiders have suggested the Mets ideally would bring in two relievers with closing experience and let manager Terry Collins sort out who hands the ball to whom in spring training if need be.
Alderson suggested the early offseason contracts to late-inning relievers, including to Jonathan Papelbon in Philadelphia as well as to Jonathan Broxton (Kansas City) and Joe Nathan (Texas), have emboldened agents to ask for the moon. But Alderson added that the volume of relievers is far more than the slots available to close with teams. So the thinking is there should be values in the group that includes Matt Capps, Jon Rauch, Frank Francisco and Octavio Dotel, among others, as the offseason progresses and closing opportunities dwindle.
The Mets have plenty of holes to fill in the bullpen. Left-hander Tim Byrdak signed an extension for 2012 during last season and will be the primary southpaw specialist. Manny Acosta demonstrated he merits being a part of the relief corps. Parnell should factor into the mix somewhere in all likelihood, although clearly not at the back end. But Beato could even find himself at Triple-A Buffalo to open next season if he does not perform well in spring training. And D.J. Carrasco, despite being under contract, will not make the team without a stellar spring training.
"I don't know if there's anything as glaring as our bullpen issue that we faced at the end of last year and continue to address," Alderson said.
In reality, the Mets did not make any real player moves until the winter meetings last offseason, when Alderson signed catcher Ronny Paulino and Carrasco. So it is not like the early inactivity should set off any particular alarms.
At least the plus side of not having money is that you are less likely to offer multiyear contracts you come to regret.